Sunday, August 21, 2005

On Rock Erosion


Mrs. Wolf and I recently took a trip to Niagara Falls. We had a truly wonderful trip. We had a wonderful view of the Falls from our hotel room, where I took the picture at right of the Horseshoe Falls early in the morning.

One of the things that we learned about the Falls while we were there is that the Falls are receding every year due to rock erosion. All the water going over the falls causes the rock underneath it to erode a few inches each year. Previously, it used to erode up to ten feet a year, but that was slowed when a large percentage of the water that goes over the falls was diverted to electrical plants further up the Niagara River. But 2000 years ago, the falls used to be located all the way up beyond where the Rainbow Bridge currently is.

Of course, the concept of erosion is nothing new. I don't know about other cultures, but Jews have certainly known about it for at least 2000 years. Evidence for this comes from the story of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was an unlearned man in his forties living in Israel. The son of a convert, he never spent much time studying and was totally lacking in learning. As the story goes, one day he observed a hole in a rock formation, caused by flowing (or dripping) water. He reasoned that if the water, which is soft, could penetrate the hard rock, then surely Torah could penetrate his soul if he worked at it hard enough. The rest, of course, is history. Rabbi Akiva went on to become one of the greatest Tana'im in the Mishna and one of the most recognizable names in Jewish history.

Of course, we see evidence of rock erosion all around us. The best example that comes to mind, of course, is that of the Grand Canyon, which was caused by the Colorado River over the course of many years. One can very easily see the layers of the canyon formed by the river over the course of the millenia. There is really no other way (other than "it was created that way") to explain the formation of the Grand Canyon. A worldwide flood certainly would not have caused the canyon to form the way it did. Even Paul Bunyan's plow couldn't have caused the layering that appears in the rock formations. But, of course, expect more Jews to believe in the Paul Bunyan story than to believe that it took the millions of years required to form the Grand Canyon.

I find it odd how people can have evidence of certain facts literally right in front of their faces, but fail to see it. Rock erosion is certainly not some "theory" that scientists cook up... it can be observed right in front of us at the Niagara Falls and at other places around the world. Even the Gemara attests to it with the Rabbi Akiva story. And yet, when you point to the Grand Canyon, you get "water could never do that" from the Young Earth Creationist crowd. Sometimes it's just very frustrating...

The Wolf

23 comments:

PsychoToddler said...

Erosion is a testament to persistence. Like when my little one keeps nagging me for a cookie.

We were at Niagara falls in June. It must have been cool to watch it from the hotel.

MCAryeh said...

Beautiful picture.

Completely unrelated, but I've been reading through the blog, and really appreciate your sense of balance within Torah....very thought provoking posts.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Just a point from an amateur geologist,

There is really no other way (other than "it was created that way") to explain the formation of the Grand Canyon. A worldwide flood certainly would not have caused the canyon to form the way it did. Even Paul Bunyan's plow couldn't have caused the layering that appears in the rock formations.

The erosion didn't form the rock layers, either; erosion is just what carved out the canyon, making the rock layers visible. Like the slow-acting erosion that exposed them, the sedimentary rock layers built up over millions of years as the changing environment caused different types of sediment (silt, sand, shells, etc.) to build up in one place at different times.

Mis-nagid said...

A while ago I was a guest at a shabbos lunch (as me, not Mis-nagid). The hosts were explaining how they asked a godol why the Torah says that the sun moves and the scientists say that earth does. The godol (I'm not naming names, but you've heard of him) said that scientists are always changing their minds and that they'll soon realize the error of their ways. This satisfied my hosts and they do not believe in heliocentricity. I lightly protested and they a) called me a kofer (irony!) and b) called me not intellectually honest.

You'd never know it by looking at them, i.e. they have good jobs, dress nicely, talk well -- but they're crazy. Nor are they alone; this incredible disdain for critical thinking is extremely widespead in frum circles. You start by saying god wrote a book (in Hebrew, natch!), and it's it's all downhill from there. Evolution is a lie, rabbis read minds, a worldwide flood, splitting seas, etc. The genre mistake is pernicious, undermining reason and sanity. Everything it touches becomes distorted in its service.

BrooklynWolf said...

MC, thank you for the kind words.

Steg, thanks for the correction. I knew that, of course. It was just simple bad wording on my part.

Mis-nagid,
As you know from reading my blog, I've had my share of run-ins with geocentrists. I could never understand how anyone could be a geocentrist in this day and age.

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

"I could never understand how anyone could be a geocentrist in this day and age."

And yet you're an Orthodox Jew who -- get this -- believes that Yahweh wrote a book. Pot, meet kettle.

BrooklynWolf said...

To be fair, Mis-nagid, I think you have differentiate between that which one takes as a belief (and not proven - or even provable) by science; and that which is (easily) disproven.

Yes, I believe that God created the universe. But that's what it is - a belief. I don't present it as a scientific fact because it's not proven (or even provable). But that's a far cry away from someone who states that the sun orbits the earth or is the literal center of the universe.

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

Nice dodge. I said "Yahweh wrote a book" and you go all Deist with a creator.

How is kriyat yam suf not every bit as much of a violation of the laws of physics as geocentricity? And if you take one on faith, why not the other? You can't mock others for believing things that contradict physics until you clean your own house. Thus pots and kettles.

BrooklynWolf said...

Fair enough - I misunderstood the thrust of your argument.

Yes, I believe that God wrote the Torah. Again, I don't see how that is provable or disprovable.

And your argument from krias Yam Suf isn't a good one either. It's one thing to believe in the temporary suspension of nature for a miracle to occur - it's another thing to simply toss away evidence of nature that is happening right in front of your eyes.

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

"Yes, I believe that God wrote the Torah. Again, I don't see how that is provable or disprovable."

Never mind proof, we can't prove heliocentricity either. What reason or evidence can you give for the belief? And if the answer is none (and it should be, since it's faith), how did you decide to believe in this faith claim over other competing ones? It's not like reason support one more than the other, or that there's more evidence for this one or that. The way you've decided which religion's "non-provable and non-unprovable" claims is simply the coincidence of your birth.

"And your argument from krias Yam Suf isn't a good one either. It's one thing to believe in the temporary suspension of nature for a miracle to occur"

How is that any different? The formation of the falls was also a long time ago. You too have to extrapolate the current laws of physics back into time to account for their formation via water erosion. Why do the falls' past have to abide by today's physics any more than the red sea does? Perhaps the falls were a one time thing, like the flood, creation, or kriyat yam suf. You can't justify the exception in one case and not the other. Well, you do, but that's because you were taught silly things before you were old enough to know better, not because it's any more plausible. If you had not been taught at a young age to believe in kriat yam suf, you'd feel the same way about it as you do about Young Earth Creationists, just as you do now about the virgin birth.

BrooklynWolf said...

Mis-nagid, who says you can't prove heliocentricity? The laws of physics state that the earth orbits the sun (or, to be more precise, they orbit each other around the center of the sun-earth system. But due to the vast difference in mass between the sun and the earth, that center is deep within the sun.)

I think, however, that you are missing the main point of my argument. I'm not arguing against people who believe in silly things. If you want to believe that God created the Grand Canyon as it is, that's fine with me - I won't argue against it because the point is (from an empirical point of view) unarguable. If you want to be a proponent of Last Thursdayism - go ahead - it's not disprovable. *I* may not agree with you, but I certainly can't say that you're wrong based on any scientific evidence. So, if I want to believe in a supernatural splitting of the sea 3300 years ago, so be it - you can't prove or disprove it one way or the other - and I'm not presenting it as a scientific proof. I would never assert that we can prove krias yam suf happened any more than I would ever assert (short a direct revelation, of course) that we can prove that God exists or that He created the world.

But, on the other hand, you have people who are willfully ignoring evidence that is literally right in front of them. They're not even arguing a super-natural phenomenon - they're simply stating by fiat that "science is wrong and we're right" and that the evidence is either wrong or faked. It's thinking like *that* that has me frustrated.

There is a difference between the two. I'm not opposed to people believing in the supernatural - if a Christian wants to believe in the virgin birth that fine by me. But don't present it as scientific fact.

I think I have a follow up for this post.

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

"who says you can't prove heliocentricity?"

Science does. It's a shame you don't realize that. It's called the Heliocentic theory for a reason, you know. It has not, and never will be proven.

"The laws of physics state that the earth orbits the sun"

No they do not. The theory of heliocentrity best explains the evidence we have thus far collected. There are other theories that could explain it too, even as a flat earth or different set of physics laws. Not only that, if we ever proved it, it would no longer be scientific. Science requires falsifiable claims, and anything proved cannot be said to be falsifiable.

Two sure signs of someone who doesn't understand science is talking about laws of physics as the laws that govern the universe, instead of a model that maps to our observations, and saying that science has proved something.

"So, if I want to believe in a supernatural splitting of the sea 3300 years ago, so be it"

You're stating the obvious, but avoid the thrust of my question. I said:
"how did you decide to believe in this faith claim over other competing ones?"

Answer that, don't just repeat what you've chosen to believe.

"I would never assert that we can prove krias yam suf happened"

But you'll gladly reverse the burden of proof. You're making a claim that kriyat yam suf occured. How do you support that claim? And if you can't, why believe it? Don't just tell me that you can because it hasn't been disproved. That's obvious and trite. Why do you choose to believe that with no evidence,a nd how do you distinguish between it and other things with no evidence, like fairies?

"But, on the other hand, you have people who are willfully ignoring evidence that is literally right in front of them."

That's you, as I showed above. And it's not just the laws of physics that you flout. How do you claim that millions of labor force personnel left a country of nearly equal population in total -- without leaving a mark? Not even on the neighboring countries, who would certainly have been affected? Crossed desert that was nothing but scrub brush and could support a few thousand at most, without leaving a mark? Millions of people in an era where the largest countries in the world couldn't muster such numbers, let alone nomads? Migrated so many people to Israel the if they walked 8 abreast, there ould still be people in Egypt shen the front of the line reached Sinai? Conquered a country that archaeology shows to be sparsely populated for a long time afterward -- and without leaving a mark? The evidence is everywhere, and you are willfully ignoring it. The Torah itself is heavily scarred with evidence of its authorship and editing process, which you willfully ignore. Don't go all high and mighty about people making exceptions of reason, when you're a practicing cultmember with carefully cut holes in his head.

BrooklynWolf said...

Science requires falsifiable claims, and anything proved cannot be said to be falsifiable.

Color me confused here.

I can take a hypothesis - objects containing iron are attracted to magnets. I can test that hypothesis over and over again and each time I put the iron nugget next to the magnet, the iron nugget moves to the magnet. I can do this over and over again. It's falsifiable, because at any time, it might happen that the iron isn't attracted to the magnet. But since it is every time, it, in effect, is proven that iron (at least in the circumstances set up in the lab) is attracted to the magnet. Are you saying that this is no longer scientific?

Granted Heliocentrism is a model - but it's a pretty well accepted one.

You're stating the obvious, but avoid the thrust of my question. I said:
"how did you decide to believe in this faith claim over other competing ones?"

Answer that, don't just repeat what you've chosen to believe.


Again, you're missing the point. I freely admit that my belief in krias yam suf is *not rooted in science*. It's a supernatural event. I chose to believe it because I believe in the Torah. But I'm not going to come along and say to someone "if you don't believe in Krias Yam Suf then you're not rational." I fully admit that it's not a fact that can be scientifically proven. And no, I don't reverse the burden of proof - I don't require others to prove to me that it didn't happen. That was actually going to be part of the topic of my next post.

As for your other points, I will agree that there are questions that can legitimately be asked - as the ones you do. Again, I'm not going to ask you to prove your assertions - I fully understand that as the one making the assertion the burden of proof is on me. And, again, I'll fully admit that I don't have all the answers. But, as the old saying goes, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. Just because I cannot prove or explain something, that does not mean that it isn't so. How did the desert support so many people? I suppose the answer to that is the manna. You don't believe that God gave us manna in the wilderness - fine, you're entitled to your beliefs - I'm not going to call you irrational or crazy for not believing in it. Your long line of eight abredst - well, even the Torah doesn't state that they walked single file eight abredst. The lack of archeological evidence for a massive conquest? Valid question; for which I admit I don't have a ready answer.

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

I can take a hypothesis - objects containing iron are attracted to magnets."

Oy vey. That's not a hypothesis, that's an observation. A hypothesis would be: magnets attract ferrous materials because the atoms in the magnet are aligned in their spin (it would need to be more strongly formulated). It could be tested: try aligning different metals, try attracting different things. It can be falsified: a single non-aligned attractor would discredit the hypothesis. A hypothesis must have explanatory power, for example by allowing you to make successful predictions of previously unobserved behavior, and by showing why it is this way as opposed to another.

"It's falsifiable, because at any time, it might happen that the iron isn't attracted to the magnet."

That not what falsifiable means. What you've independently rediscovered is Hume's critique of induction.

These last two points make me sad. It's a tragedy how bad frum people are at the philosophy of science. They don't let kids learn it because they want their brains to be malleable to any nonsense, and don't give the kids tools to criticially think about the things they are teaching them.

"Again, you're missing the point. I freely admit that my belief in krias yam suf is *not rooted in science*."

No, you're missing the point, because you've been trained not to see it. You have to be able to say why you believe something, to justify it to the exclusion of other things. Someone who believes in KYS but not the virgin birth or a young earth is not being rational, since no logical rationale stands behind the choice of one faith over the other.

"I chose to believe it because I believe in the Torah."

You can't justify a belief in KYS because you believe in the Torah when the only source for it is the Torah itself. It's circular.

"But, as the old saying goes, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. Just because I cannot prove or explain something, that does not mean that it isn't so."

That IS the reversal of burden of pproof! You just went and did it. Lack of evidence being not evidence of lack is MEANINGLESS to support a claim. It's only useful is deflecting a problem, but is NOT support. If I believe in fairies, I can't support it by blithely nothing that there's a lack of evidence. You do have the burden, so simply saying LoEINEoL says nothing.

You make many claims by being an Orthodox Jew, nearly all of which are in the teeth of evidence, not just unsupported by it. You have the burden of proof for those claims, and do not meet it, but say that evidence could be forthcoming. However, where there is evidence, it all contradicts Orthodox beliefs, and you still willfully ignore it.

"The lack of archeological evidence for a massive conquest? Valid question; for which I admit I don't have a ready answer."

So why not be a Mormon? They too have "unresolved" difficulties with archaeology. If you're not basing your beliefs on the evidence, but will simply stick to your belief when the evidence clearly contradicts it, you are not rational. The evidence in hand is extremely clear: Orthodox Judaism's claims are false. You willfully ignore this evidence just as you mock others for doing the exact same thing. Why can't they say that the problems of erosion are ones "which I admit I don't have a ready answer?" Mock away, hypocrite.

AMSHINOVER said...

is that brimstone i smell

Mis-nagid said...

No, your pants are on fire.

Jewish Atheist said...

How can you honestly say that God wrote the Torah, when it's riddled with contradictions, absurdities, and immoral values, like child slavery and genocide?

BrooklynWolf said...

Mis-nagid,

Firstly, I want to thank you for pointing out my lack of scientific knowledge (no, I don't mean that sarcastically). I will do further reading to better acquaint myself with the terminology and processes of scientific philosiphy.

In any event, I did not turn the burden of proof on you. If I turned the burden of proof on you, I would have said "Prove KYS didn't happen!" But that's not what I did. I'm willing to let the matter remain an open question for now. As I stated up front, I *believe* KYS happened. Belief need not be based on a scientific fact. I can believe that there is life in outer space. I don't have any hard evidence to back up that belief - it's just a belief.

So, then, why am I not a Mormon? I suppose the answer is twofold: 1. I was born Jewish. I'll readily admit that had I been born a Mormon, I would probably see things differently.
2. I find, based on Jewish sources, the identification of Jesus as the Jewish messiah to be incorrect (and his place as part of the Trinity to be totally out of the realm of traditional Jewish thought). Therefore, whether or not he walked the American frontier after his crucifixion and resurection is really irrelevant.

JA,

You ask a valid question, which is one that I have struggled with for a while. I'll be the first to admit that I don't have any hard answers, but I do have an idea.

It's certainly true that concepts that we find abhorrent today, such as chattel slavery, are present in the Torah. There's no getting around that. On the other hand, one must always remember who the primary audience for the Torah was -- the Jews living in the wilderness 3300 years ago. 3300 years ago, slavery in a society was the norm, not the exception. If God had presented them with a Torah that was totally "out of step" with their times, they would not have accepted it.

However, I believe (again, it's a belief) that God allowed us, as a society, to eventually move beyond the need for chattel slavery. The world now (for the most part) recognizes slavery as a great wrong. But the Torah doesn't *require* slavery - it's an option - and it's an option that when it is no longer needed can be dispensed with. So, yes, technically, slavery is still "on the books." However, the matter has become purely acedemic.

A similar concept can be found with regard to sacrifices. We used to offer animal sacrifices. Of course, we no longer do so today because we no longer have a Beis HaMikdash. However, there are opinions (minority, I know) that when the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, we will not offer animal sacrifices anymore, because we, as a society, have moved beyond it.

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

"Firstly, I want to thank you for pointing out my lack of scientific knowledge (no, I don't mean that sarcastically)."

I was a bit harsh. It's very frustratiing to talk to people who are clearly irrational and do not realize their ignorance. In fact, that's what you said in this post:
"And yet, when you point to the Grand Canyon, you get "water could never do that" from the Young Earth Creationist crowd. Sometimes it's just very frustrating..."

"I will do further reading to better acquaint myself with the terminology and processes of scientific philosiphy.

Whoa, careful there. It's philosophy of science you want, not scientific philosophy.

"If I turned the burden of proof on you, I would have said "Prove KYS didn't happen!" But that's not what I did."

You did, but didn't say it out loud. We're discussing the belief, and you hold it, but are expecting me to give you a reason not to believe it -- or you'll continue to hold it. Just because you've not made it explicit doesn't mean you haven't reversed the BoP. It rests on you, you haven't met it, and yet you continue believing while claiming that my arguments are not strong enough. That's backwards. You're supposed to start with no belief and build support for one, not start with the unsupported belief and note the lack of disconfirming evidence. Going about it your way leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of nonsense, as you and other Orthodox Jews ably demonstrate.

"Belief need not be based on a scientific fact."

But if you want to be rational, it must be based on reason and evidence.

"I can believe that there is life in outer space. I don't have any hard evidence to back up that belief - it's just a belief."

A terrible example. There is reason and evidence to support the idea of life in outer space. There's an existence proof that it can exist: us. There's some very weak evidence of life elswhere and some decent reasoning in its favor. There's evidence of complex organic molecules (like sugar) in space. That's hard evidence that life could exist, and when crossed with reason allows for a lightly held provisional belief that there is other life in the universe. Belief thet is proportionate to the evidence is critical thinking in a nutshell. On the other hand, no one has ever seen evidence of anything supernatural, and reason says that religion is just primitive superstition gussied up over time into fancier terms.

"So, then, why am I not a Mormon? I suppose the answer is twofold: 1. I was born Jewish. "

No, just onefold. That's the only reason. These are the silly things you were taught before you havea mental immune system to weed out nonsensical memes. They're an early-installed exception that subverts your reasoning ability.

"I'll readily admit that had I been born a Mormon, I would probably see things differently."

No fuzzy equivocation: With the attitude you are currently displaying, if you had been born Mormon you'd believe in Joseph Smith's prophesy (Moses) and in the migration of Jews as Native Americans to America (Exodus). That's why it's so silly to complain about the geocentrists when you yourself are just as irrational about ignoring evidence and lack of reason.

"2. I find, based on Jewish sources, the identification of Jesus as the Jewish messiah to be incorrect."

That is begging the question. Who says the Jewish sources are correct? You're starting out by assuming what you attempt to support.

"(and his place as part of the Trinity to be totally out of the realm of traditional Jewish thought). Therefore, whether or not he walked the American frontier after his crucifixion and resurection is really irrelevant."

It's not just a choice between Orthodox Judaism and Mormonism. You're commiting the false dilemma fallacy. That the evidence does not support Mormonism does not support Judaism. I used Mormonism as an example, but it could easily be Bahai, Buddhism, Sufism, or Catholicism. Have you really examined the evidence for all the other religions? Even if you had, who says any of them are correct? There's no logical reason that they can't all be wrong. Maybe the real religion hasn't been revealed yet, or doesn't exist. Finally, if you apply your current lax standard of reasoning to any other religion, they should be just as believable by you. If contradictary evidence just makes for problems "which I admit I don't have a ready answer" by your standard you must believe all of them.

"If God had presented them with a Torah that was totally "out of step" with their times, they would not have accepted it."

That's called an ad-hoc hypothesis.

What's so hard to understand? The Torah exactly matches the worldview of its authors. Gods are a totally unnecessary hypothesis to explain the Torah's origins. You say "one must always remember who the primary audience for the Torah was" but what you should say is "one must always remember who the primary authors of the Torah were." You do the same for any other composite work of literature, because that's the right way to understand it.

"So, yes, technically, slavery is still "on the books." However, the matter has become purely acedemic."

So God's word has an expiration date and is now defunct? And how did we decide which parts of the Torah to deprecate? Isn't that allowing our moral standards to decide our laws, instead of the allegedly divine yardstick?

"However, there are opinions (minority, I know) that when the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, we will not offer animal sacrifices anymore, because we, as a society, have moved beyond it."

And yet YHWH wasted nearly a third of his unique revelation to all humankind on excrutiatingly exhaustive lists of animal sacrifice practices? Didn't He have more important things to tell humankind in His one great reveal? The timeless text of the Torah?

It's a silly position you hold. The Torah was already out of date a mere few hundred years after its final redaction. Already at that time the practice of Judaism looked nothing like the one envision by its authors. When Rabbinism was invented it was a totally different beast with only a legal fiction tying it to the Torah. Look around you: how many Orthodox Jews live as the Yahwists who wrote the Torah do? Rabbinism is no more based on proof texts from Tanakh than Christianity is. It was the source of authority used for innovations, and the propaganda of TSBP is just a fig leaf covering the creation of a nearly-new religion.

Jack's Shack said...

Nice picture. I like it.

Anonymous said...

"You're supposed to start with no belief and build support for one, not start with the unsupported belief and note the lack of disconfirming evidence."

That is a dogma. You are a missionary. Who are you to tell people what they can and can't believe? I don't believe Wolf was oppressing you in any way that would require self-defense.
-a.s.

Anonymous said...

(memetic self-defense, of course)

Frum Singles said...

I definitely can relate. Im sitting in shule shabas and this guy (who always acts like my good friend) makes a mi shebairach for everyone around me, but "for some reason" skips over me.

Just because I'm single and don't wear a talis, does that mean I don't rate?